Turtles All the Way Down

Aza leans her head on Daisy's shoulder

Can you have a boyfriend if even the thought of kissing someone distresses you? Turtles All the Way Down is the film equivalent of a Billie Eilish song, a tale of teenage angst written by John Green, who also did The Fault in Our Stars. And, as the Amazon algorithm puts it, if you liked that you’ll probably like this. Aza (Isabella Merced) has OCD, which manifests as an extreme aversion to germs. Microbes, bacteria and c.diff in particular are what Aza thinks about all day long. Which means dating boys – all that saliva and oral glop – is right out. But that’s fine. Aza has her bestie by her. A chatty … Read more

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round

A smiling James Coburn

James Coburn’s time as an A list star lasted only… how long? A year? Three? 1966’s Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round is emblematic of the films that took Coburn to the top rung and then pulled him off it again. Key exhibit here is Our Man Flint, also from 1966 – a bona fide hit giving him a star vehicle after having been eye-catching in other people’s hits, like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Charade. Dead Heat was not a hit but it didn’t stop Coburn returning to the Flint teat again and again, milking it dry with successive films – In Like Flint, Waterhole Three, The President’s Analyst, Duffy, Candy – comedy … Read more

Deep Sea

Shenxiu all at sea

Deep Sea came as a genuine surprise, not that I know much about the state of Chinese animation in 2024, or any other year. But what a magical, remarkable, imaginative, technically inventive film this is. The story is pretty much Studio Ghibli – Shenxiu, a young girl whose mother has walked out and whose father has remarried and lost interest in her, falls over the rail of the ship her family are on and is instantly transported to a phantasmagorical undersea world. Here she ends up in a busy restaurant kitchen on board a cranky submarine powered by pedalling walruses and is taken under the wing of Nan He, an avant-garde chef (his estimation … Read more

Black Angel

Dan Duryea, June Vincent and Peter Lorre

The final film of director Roy William Neill, who died not long after it was released, 1946’s Black Angel is one of those overlooked noirs that could stand a bit more attention. Neill was the director of the string of Sherlock Holmes film starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, rattling yarns that all came in at around 60 minutes. Here he’s also wasting no time, though he has almost a feature’s length to play with – 80 minutes – introducing his characters and setting out his stall at speed. One femme fatale, three men. The femme is played by Constance Dowling, and what a magnificent firecracker of nastiness it seems like she’s going … Read more

Freud’s Last Session

Freud and CS Lewis

Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis probably never sat down and had a conversation about the existence of God, a disclaimer at the end of Freud’s Last Session tells us, but that hasn’t stopped director Matt Brown and co-writer Mark St Germain (who wrote the play on which the film is based) from shaping a what-if drama about the event. We’re in London in 1939 as war is about to break out. Freud has recently arrived from his beloved Vienna, having been chased out by the Nazis because of his Jewishness. He has cancer of the mouth and only weeks to live – he’d opt for assisted suicide (a postscript also tells us) only … Read more

Thief

Frank leans out of a car window

Know thyself, as the ancient Greeks used to say. 1981’s Thief is Michael Mann’s debut feature, one of James Caan’s finest films and though it’s neo-noir and set on mean streets (Violent Streets was its original title), it’s Greek to the bone – this hero is shot through with the tragic flaw of not knowing himself well enough. Caan plays the ex-con now running a car sales business who keeps his hand in by moonlighting as a jewel thief. He’s good, one of Chicago’s best. In an opening sequence Mann demonstrates how good, and that this film’s director has seen all the great heist movies, in a sequence wehre Frank (Caan) is shown … Read more

Rose

Rose, played by Sofie Gråbøl

Rose is a film about a woman who’s mentally ill. And if that doesn’t set alarms ringing with you, it does with me. The easy sympathy vote is one reason, the gawp at the afflicted is another. But Rose does neither, probably because its director, Niels Arden Oplev, has based his film on his experiences with his own sister. Possibly also because the superb Sofie Gråbøl plays the lead character, named Inger, just to confuse things a touch. It’s the story of an institutionalised middle-aged schizophrenic who is plucked out of her safe, cared-for existence one day by her sister Ellen (Lena Maria Christensen) and her sister’s new husband Vagn (Anders W Berthelsen) … Read more

Days of Eclipse

Malyanov cradles the child he's found

Aleksandr Sokurov’s 1988 movie Days of Eclipse is often bracketed as sci-fi but there are no aliens, spaceships or weird tech in it. It’s not set in the future either. But there is something distinctly unworldly about it and it’s also based on a book by the Strugatsky brothers, who wrote the story Tarkovsky repurposed for Stalker, another movie often described as sci-fi but which also doesn’t slot right into that groove. Sokurov knew Tarkovsky, who is clearly the strongest influence on this strangely meditative movie you might call a homage to his mentor. Both feature single guys in what you might call a colonial setting. In Stalker the dude is hacking his … Read more

Civil War

Jessie and Lee take cover behind a car

Civil War. The title and the upfront concept – a modern-day fight to the death between secessionist states and the rest of the USA – is more enticement and attention grabber than political provocation. Look for evidence of red v blue or the culture wars writ large, or the Trump years, and you’ll find them, but you have to look hard and writer director Alex Garland has other rockets to launch here. For all the big budget and hardware, helicopter firestorms and battle scenes, it’s a very small, old-fashioned B movie about a single person’s journey towards salvation, with Kirsten Dunst as the battle-scarred war photographer whose inner dialogue about her approach – get … Read more

Tenebrae

Anthony Franciosa as author Peter Neal

The last time I watched Tenebrae was in 1999, when it had just been released in as near to a complete, uncensored version as anyone up to that point had managed for the home entertainment market. I didn’t like it much. A “weird blood-bucket whodunit” was one line in my notes, which also mentioned its strange non-sequiturs, its jagged dramatic throughline and its disengaged acting. So I thought I’d give it another go, to see whether Arrow’s recent 4K remaster – every nanosecond of it now back as Dario Argento intended – improved on the Nouveaux version from the last century, which was on VHS. For those who’ve not seen it, the film … Read more